Foreign tourists to the U.S. give birth to 33,000 babies a year — each of them immediately becoming a citizen — according to a new report being released Thursday that puts numbers on the extent to which immigrants make use of America’s birthright citizenship policy.
Almost all of those 33,000 are part of birth tourism, says Steven A. Camarota, the researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies who did the report. That means they came to the U.S. while pregnant on short-term visas for the express purpose of giving birth and earning their child immediate citizenship.
Some 39,000 other foreigner women here on temporary student or guest-worker visas also give birth, Mr. Camarota calculated.
And that’s all in addition to nearly 300,000 births each year to illegal immigrants, each of which is also immediately a citizen, a status that provides to the parents a potential pathway, albeit complicated and lengthy, to remain legally in the U.S. as well.
“When we think about the issue of birthright citizenship or automatic citizenship we don’t usually think about all the temporary visitors. We usually think about the illegal immigrants,” he said. “But these are not trivial numbers, if you’re looking at around 70,000.”
The report comes amid intense interest on the part of President Trump in curtailing birthright citizenship.
He has suggested he could even try it through executive action — though most legal analysts say that’s beyond his presidential powers and it would take a law approved by Congress, and perhaps an actual change to the Constitution itself.
The Center for Immigration Studies said it hasn’t taken a stand on those legal questions, but did want to put numbers on the extent of the situation.
Under current policy, nearly every child born on U.S. soil is granted citizenship. The major exception is children born to foreign diplomats, who are not deemed under the jurisdiction of the U.S., and therefore are not automatically citizens.
Given the prized nature of American citizenship around the globe, the policy has created perverse incentives.
Federal authorities earlier this year announced criminal charges against 19 people accused of running “birth tourism” operations in Southern California, helping thousands of pregnant Chinese women reach the U.S. in time to give birth.
Women were charged up to $100,000, were coached on how to get visas and how to conceal their pregnancies from consular officials and border officers, then kept in apartments here for the final months of their pregnancies so they could deliver on U.S. soil and trigger the automatic citizenship policy.
One of the 19 pleaded guilty in September to her role. Her operation, You Win USA Vacation Services Corp., was responsible for 500 birth tourists, and she collected $3 million in fees over two years. She is to be sentenced next week.
While organizers of birth tourism can be prosecuted, U.S. immigration officials tell The Washington Times there is little they can do about the women unless they lied on their visa applications. And even then, authorities don’t pursue those cases.
As for the children themselves, once they have citizenship, it’s not revoked.
In addition to China, Russia is another major source of birth tourism.
“The people who do this typically are wealthy people or people of some means who live in a society where they fear instability, and this is a type of insurance policy,” Mr. Camarota said.
His numbers are based on calculations from census data. He said the 33,000 births to tourists is an “educated guess,” while the 39,000 births to women here on longer-term visas such as guest-worker programs is more definite.
Mr. Trump as recently as August said he’s “seriously” pondering action on the issue.
Most scholars say it’s an uphill battle.
The 14th Amendment grants automatic citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” That has generally been understood to apply broadly, though some scholars argue that illegal immigrants never went through the correct process to enter, and may not qualify as under the jurisdiction of the U.S.
If so, then changing the law could deny their newborns automatic citizenship.
Mr. Camarota said it’s doubtful the authors of the 14th Amendment foresaw the birth tourism issue.
But other analysts said doing away with automatic citizenship would also have unforeseen consequences.
The Migration Policy Institute says the numbers of illegal immigrants would swell, because children who are now become citizens would instead be here illegally, along with their parents. MPI said the unauthorized population would soar to 24 million by the middle of this century, up from about 11 million now.
The MPI said that would result in a “hereditary disadvantage” that could undermine American democracy.
“It also would be contrary to the American sense of fair play that has rejected visiting the sins of the parents on the children, thereby perpetuating the kind of hereditary disadvantage as practiced in many countries in Europe,” the organization said in its 2015 analysis.